Last night debuted the second episode of Dimension 20's latest season Burrow's End. Debuting one of Dimension 20's most insane battlefields party members and audience alike were left shaken.
This week we had a chance to speak with a few of the cast members to talk about their experiences on Burrow's End and how what could have been a wholesome adventure immediately became anything but.
Our interview with Rashawn Scott and Jasper Cartwright is already up so you can read or watch our conversation with them. We were also able to speak with Siobhan Thompson and Erika Ishii about going into Burrow's End.
There will be spoilers for Episode 1 and Episode 2 of Burrow's End throughout the course of this interview.
A Young Stoat And An Old Stoat
In Burrow's End, Thompson plays Jayhson a scrappy young stoat while Ishii plays the elderly matriarch of the family Ava. Each of these characters is so distinct from one another, yet comes from the same animal.
In hearing how they designed their characters' looks Thompson explained "I think my email just said 'Kinda red-headed, messy hair, with a gap tooth he can spit through" and then the artist, [Analise Jensen], did such a good job"
Ishii started breaking down complimenting how cute Jaysohn looks. Thompson continued "All of the art is so good. Her first drawing I thought 'Yup, you got it, you nailed him, exactly, I have no notes' I wish I could give you notes because it makes me feel unprofessional when I don't."
"It makes me feel like I'm not paying attention, but I am" offered Ishii, mirroring the same concern "I think the only note I had for a second draft was 'even angrier!' But Ava was very much informed by her 3 Charisma because that takes the form of obviously being abrasive, passive-aggressive, generational trauma stoat but also she's 4 years old, that's ancient in stoat years."
"She's been around for so many battles. I loved the idea of the claw mark over one eye." Ishii highlighted that that meant she could have hair and makeup style her hair with three slashes to mirror that of her characters.
How Hair and Makeup Enhance Roleplay
Compliments went out to Denise Valentine and the hair and makeup team for how much they nailed the looks of everyone on the cast throughout the season. Prior to having to improvise and be in character for 8 hours, it's like a little "calming station" beforehand.
"For me, it's really subtle. Denise did the star makeup and the hair and kind of the eyes, to really accent the resting frowny face that people would look across at"
"For Jaysohn my makeup note was 'make me look like I've been dragged backwards through a hedge"
Roleplaying A Family With Confidence
I was incredibly impressed with the dynamics that were on display between Jaysohn as a son vs Jaysohn as a brother, and the way the whole family respects (or tolerates) Ava. Thompson was able to tell me that they "talked about it some in character creation, and then we always do a Session 0"
"There are no cameras for Session 0, it's just us and the director, Michael Schaubach. We give it a go, it's a chance for us to beta test everything and see if I'm going to do a voice will that work. For this season specifically, it was useful to set that family dynamic. You can go in knowing who you are, but as soon as one person sets a specific character dynamic you're like 'yes, ok I can play with that!'"
Ishii added "Because we were a family it was helpful for me to see the dynamic between all of the other characters as well. You can know how I interact with my family, but being able to know the different dynamics amongst them and then be like 'How can grandma do this?'"
For Thompson it was more "How can I play my mother and grandmother off each other?"
"That family dynamic was so tight and from the first episode you can see it and it feels like we have that history"
Fond memories were shared about that dynamic not just in character, but above the table. A moment from Episode 1 was brought up where Ishii produced a Werther's Original to give to Thompson as Ava was giving Jaysohn a dried strawberry, which had everyone at the table breaking down into laughter.
Generational Trauma Across A Family of Stoats
The way that Ava simultaneously got respected as the matriarch, would clean her daughter like she was still a kit, but also stare down anyone she didn't like I knew that there was a special level of depth to this character
"Look, you're trying to ask me if I'm playing my mother and in a way yes" Ishii admitted "It's funny, I've been talking about the narrative of generational trauma that our generation is starting to do."
"Some of my favorite films are Everything Everywhere All At Once or Turning Red. Halfway through this season Carlos [Luna] said 'It's giving Joy Luck Club, have you seen that?' and I said 'No I haven't and for a very specific reason.'" Later that night Ishii was texting Luna angrily while crying through the movie.
Ava gives off a doddering old lady stoat while also sharing - somewhat traumatic - love. Jaysohn also has a fluctuating character throughout Episode 1. Starting the series play-fighting with his sister, to leading them to safety be the end I wanted to know how much of that was planned by Thompson, and how much was the story the dice told.
Karate Kid Jaysohn Saves The Day
"I truly didn't know. It was really interesting to see Jaysohn come into his own, even for me standing back fully dissociating" Thompson reassured in a totally healthy way "I pitched the character as a one-dimensional 8-year-old kid who can't stop moving and wants to show you his karate tricks"
"This kid has skills and in this specific circumstance, he was the most useful person there." It reminded Thompson of going gold panning as a child and hearing that kids are better at it due to not only being closer to the water but their eyesight is designed to pick up "shockingly observant things".
Thompson brought up an interesting parallel that Jaysohn, in a regular school setting would be the kind of kid who was constantly in trouble for not being able to sit down for 30 minutes. That approach is a disservice to him because here he's clearly talented in a number of ways.
Ishii pointed out his high Wisdom, a stat which he has a 20 in, Thompson explained that "there's something about kids that age where they notice everything. They can react faster than any adult. [...] He's very in touch with everything that's going on around him."
At that point, Ishii started breaking down uncontrollably thinking about something that Jaysohn has yet to do in the season. Thompson reassured that Burrow's End is "the most traumatic season we have, but there are some goofy bits. There are moments of goof."
Everything Was OK In The Red Burrow Until It Wasn't
It's partway into episode 1 that the shock of what was about to unfold truly begins to set in on the family of stoats. I wanted to hear from Thompson and Ishii about what it was like sitting there at the table as the happy woodland story fell to the wayside, replaced by traumatic experiences.
Ishii began by reassuring me "Buddy, if the trauma at the end of episode 1 and the bear didn't do it, if that wasn't an indicator like HOOOOLY COW."
Thompson took a moment to really commend Aabria on how "she was able to make everything so sweet and cozy so that when everything fell apart it was genuinely jarring." Jaysohn very quickly went from being read a bedtime story to escaping from a poisonous cloud.
Aabria's Storytelling Secrets
"Aabria is so incredible at laying out the stakes in a way that is not the traditional way" continued Ishii "She didn't read or watch Lord of the Rings at all so she doesn't have an attachment to the Hero's Journey. It's more that she sets an atmosphere and then will yank you kicking and screaming into the next vibe."
Ishii also brought up that when Aabria was telling the story at the beginning of episode 1 to the paper animations of the stoats that process was all live. She needed to time her reading of the story to match what was taking place.
"It's really just people playing at the top of their game, it's so cool" - Siobhan Thompson
Rick Perry, Dimension 20's Incredible Craftsman
Talking about Episode 2 and the bear battlefield I remarked that when I saw it I wasn't sure how the family of Stoats would be able to battle on it. "Funny you should say that" Ishii immediately interjected
"We had the same thought" agreed Thompson "they do a good job of hiding that stuff from us. [...] The first time we see it is the first time we walk out on set. It's always so exciting and it's the best thing about the job."
Thinking about the bear Thompson remarked "Rick Perry and his team… the game has been raised. Nobody is doing it like them [...] and they all also seem to have a really good time doing it. It's very cute over there"
"That's a museum piece, regardless of what it was used for" - Erika Ishii
"The fact that it supports storytelling, in such a specific way." Ishii started before changing gears "We see incredible miniatures and sets other places, but the fact that there's that sick battle map that tells you where the story should go…"
Thompson finished the thought "It added to the story, it's not just a cool map. It deepens the world."
"The fact that that battle map explains everything within that fight, but that it also explains everything that comes after it. It builds on that knowledge for the rest of the narrative and things that wouldn't make sense in any other way. The clues were all there in the beginning in that bear"
"It's a bit like in musical theater that if you can't say it, sing it, and if you can't sing it, you dance it." Thompson explained "but every song and dance should move the story forward. The minis in this season, always but especially in this season, help to move the narrative forward and were folded beautifully into the story."
Hearing from Jasper Cartwright already that Ishii had almost gotten in trouble touching things she shared "it was so gross and the texture." Thompson wanted to make sure that the edit of the episode showed off the beating heart.
"It lights up, it moves, these people are geniuses!" - Siobhan Thompson
TechRaptor would like to thank Siobhan Thompson and Erika Ishii for telling us about being at the table for Burrow's End and how they brought so much generational trauma and karate action to this family of stoats.
If you want to check out more of Siobhan Thompson you can find her on Twitter. With SAG still striking she was unable to discuss other projects but did recommend other seasons of Dimension 20, Crapopolis on Fox where she wrote 107, and that by doing animation "something that she wrote will come out in three years" so we should keep an eye out for that.
Erika Ishii can also be found on Twitter as well as on Worlds Beyond Number - a podcast she does with Brennan Lee Mulligan, Aabria Iyengar, and Lou Wilson - and video games where you can find Aabria and her in Starfield.
Siobhan also recommended that everyone check out Reservation Dogs on Hulu, she admits she has nothing to do with it but it's a great show.